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Casting an Early Ballot for Next Year's Baseball Hall of Fame Class

Ian CasselberryMLB Lead WriterJanuary 10, 2013

Casting an Early Ballot for Next Year's Baseball Hall of Fame Class

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    With no players being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for 2013, it's easy to look ahead to the 2014 class and the names that will be eligible for the first time. 

    Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas and Tom Glavine headline the players who will make their debut on the Hall of Fame ballot next year (or technically, at the end of this year). Others who could draw consideration among voters are Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent. 

    There will be 45 players on the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot, eight more than were eligible to be voted in this year. The influx of new names will make it difficult for some names to break through and could ruin the chances of some borderline cases who still had a chance. 

    That was definitely the case for me, as I filled out a hypothetical ballot for next year's Hall of Fame vote. Voters for the Baseball Writers Association of America are allowed to list a maximum of 10 players. As you can see from the voters who made their ballots public, few took advantage of that luxury. 

    However, if I was eligible to fill out a ballot, I would put 10 names on it. Unfortunately, that still forced me to make a couple of tough choices. I believe Jack Morris should be a Hall of Famer, yet he was squeezed off my list of 10 players.

    Even though I could have done some trickery and kept some names off because they'll be on the ballot for many years to come, I just feel the names I nominated deserve the honor more at this point. 

    This is how my Hall of Fame ballot would look if I filled one out for next year's election. 

Greg Maddux

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    If there's one lock in the 2014 Hall of Fame class, Greg Maddux should be it.

    There's not going to be a "first ballot" debate with him. There's no controversy associated with Maddux that will compel BBWAA voters to keep him out of Cooperstown for at least one year. 

    Maddux has 355 wins for his career, one more than Roger Clemens. That puts him eighth on baseball's all-time list. He won 18 or more games in nine of his 23 MLB seasons. Twice, he reached the 20-win benchmark. 

    While he wasn't known as a strikeout pitcher, Maddux totaled 3,371 for his career, ranking him 10th in MLB history.

    Part of the reason Maddux compiled so many strikeouts was that he pitched so many innings. His 5,008 innings rank No. 13 all time. He threw 200 innings or more 18 times during his career, and pitched more than 190 innings in three other seasons. Maddux led the league in innings pitched five times. 

    To further emphasize the point, Justin Verlander led MLB with 238 innings pitched last season. Maddux equaled or surpassed that total in eight different seasons. 

    Maddux won four Cy Young Awards during his career, while also winning 18 Gold Gloves and earning a spot on eight All-Star teams. 

    If Maddux isn't elected to the Hall of Fame next year, I already dread reading the explanations as to why.

Frank Thomas

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    Frank Thomas was one of the best hitters of his era.

    He has a lifetime average of .301 with a .974 OPS. He hit 521 home runs, ranking him No. 18 in MLB history, along with 495 doubles. And his 1,704 RBI put him among baseball's top 25 hitters in that category.

    Perhaps the most surprising number for Thomas is his 2,468 hits. That puts him in the top 100 on MLB's all-time list, but it's curious to see names like Fred McGriff, Steve Finley and Vladimir Guerrero ahead of him. 

    One reason Thomas didn't have more hits is that he had an extremely particular batting eye. That resulted in him drawing 1,667 walks, the 10th-highest total in baseball history.

    Thomas would lay off pitches that many sluggers would take a chance on. In some ways, that may have made Thomas a less dangerous hitter because he would take a walk when others would try to blast a home run. 

    Playing more games at designated hitter than first base may also affect his standing with some Hall of Fame voters. But when his teams didn't have a better defensive option at the position, Thomas did play first base. He shouldn't be penalized for that. 

Tom Glavine

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    Tom Glavine has the right numbers to earn election into Cooperstown.

    The left-hander earned 305 wins during his 22-year major league career. He struck out 2,607 batters, putting him in MLB's all-time top 25.

    Glavine also threw 4,413 innings, ranking him No. 30 in baseball history. He pitched 200 or more innings 14 times during his career, and threw 195 or more in three other seasons. 

    In his 17 seasons with the Atlanta Braves, Glavine won two Cy Young Awards. Overall, he was named to 10 All-Star teams and even won four Silver Slugger awards. 

    Glavine might cut it close as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But he may—and should—get credit for reaching his accomplishments during an era in which hitters dominated and PED use stained the game. 

Barry Bonds

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    To me, it's pretty simple with Barry Bonds. He has the most home runs in baseball history with 762. 

    I spent most of my life as a baseball fan believing that Hank Aaron's record of 755 would never be broken. When Mark McGwire hit 70 homers in 1998, I figured it would take at least another 20-25 years before someone surpassed that total. Bonds did it three years later. 

    Yes, Bonds almost certainly took PEDs to help him achieve those records. (Bonds actually admitted to taking steroids, but said he did so unwittingly.) 

    But in the 13 years before he allegedly began taking steroids—which was after the 1998 season, according to the book Game of Shadows—Bonds hit 40 homers three times and accumulated 411 home runs. He also compiled 445 stolen bases during that span, demonstrating that he could beat an opponent with power and speed. 

    Bonds won seven MVP awards, earning the honor for four consecutive seasons from 2001 to 2004. He finished as the runner-up in MVP voting twice. He's a 14-time All-Star with eight Gold Gloves and 12 Silver Slugger awards. 

    The man was intentionally walked with the bases loaded during a game in 1998. The Arizona Diamondbacks had an 8-6 lead over Bonds' San Francisco Giants, and manager Buck Showalter just didn't care. He thought he had a better chance to win by walking Bonds, rather than pitching to him.

    Is there any greater sign of respect—or fear—than that? 

Roger Clemens

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    Roger Clemens passes two of the immediate tests applied to players eligible for the Hall of Fame.

    Was he one of the best pitchers of his era? There's no question about it.

    He was a difference-maker for all four teams he pitched for during his career. The Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees and Houston Astros were contenders the moment he took the mound for them. 

    If asked whether or not Clemens is a Hall of Famer, do you really even have to think about it? OK, the steroid allegations may give you pause. But is the immediate instinct to say "yes"? 

    Remember, even though Clemens was accused of perjury, for lying to Congress about his PED use, he was eventually acquitted of all charges because jurors didn't find his accuser credible. That doesn't mean he was found not guilty of using steroids, but his use is still alleged because of that ruling. 

    Clemens' 354 victories rank ninth on MLB's all-time list of pitcher wins. His 4,672 strikeouts are the third most in baseball history. He won seven Cy Young Awards, two more than any other pitcher.

Craig Biggio

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    Craig Biggio came oh-so-close to earning induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. 

    Biggio was named on 68.2 percent of the ballots for the 2013 election, finishing just seven percent shy of the 75 percent of the vote required to be elected. That almost certainly means he'll break that threshold next year and be part of the 2014 Hall of Fame class. 

    I'll admit that I didn't think of Biggio as a Hall of Famer on first thought, which is one of the tests I think a potential all-time great needs to pass. But players aren't elected into Cooperstown on a quick thought. Voters get a chance to study a player's accomplishments. That's where Biggio makes his case.

    With 3,060 hits, Biggio is 21st on MLB's all-time list and virtually every player ahead of him is already in Cooperstown. In 2,850 career games, he batted .281 with a .796 OPS, 291 home runs and 1,175 RBI.

    As MLB.com's Brian McTaggart pointed out, Biggio also has more doubles than any other right-handed hitter in baseball history with 668. He ranks 15th all time in runs scored with 1,844, and is the only player in MLB history to record 600 doubles, 250 home runs, 2,700 hits and 400 stolen bases. 

    Biggio was an All-Star catcher before moving over to second base four years into his major league career. Overall, he was named to seven All-Star teams, won five Silver Slugger awards and four Gold Gloves.

    Additionally, all 20 of his major league seasons were played with the Houston Astros. That's pretty notable, considering how many other players on the 2014 ballot played for multiple teams during their careers. 

Mike Piazza

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    When it comes to judging a player's Hall of Fame worthiness, he's often compared to others who played the position—especially those who are already in Cooperstown.

    Compare Mike Piazza to other Hall of Fame catchers and he comes out favorably. Piazza has 396 home runs as a catcher, which is the most any player has ever hit at that position. (He has 427 homers overall.) 

    His .308 batting average and .922 OPS are also better than Hall of Fame catchers Carlton Fisk and Johnny Bench. (Fisk does have more career hits than Piazza, however.) He was named to 12 All-Star teams in his 16 MLB seasons.

    Steroid questions may have kept Piazza to 57.8 percent of the vote in 2013. 

    Former New York Times writer Murray Chass has written about Piazza's problem with back acne, which is often considered an indicator of steroid use. Jeff Pearlman cited several sources that said Piazza took steroids in his Roger Clemens biography, The Rocket Who Fell to Earth. New York Post's Joel Sherman has also expressed suspicions about Piazza. 

    But Piazza earned more than Barry Bonds (36.2 percent) or Roger Clemens (37.6 percent), which seems encouraging for his chances. Can he make the jump from 58 percent to the required 75 percent? Maybe not in one year, though he should. 

Jeff Bagwell

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    What's happened to Jeff Bagwell in his first four years on the Hall of Fame ballot has been shameful. 

    Bagwell was never suspected of steroid use during his 15-year career with the Houston Astros. Yet once he became eligible for the Hall of Fame, voters began to wag an accusatory finger, even though there's no evidence associating him with PEDs.

    Oh, Bagwell was friends with Ken Caminiti, who was a major steroid user. Plus, he had big muscles and hit a lot of home runs. So he must have used steroids, right? That seems to be the thought process being applied here. 

    Bagwell hit .297 over his career with a .948 OPS. That OPS puts him among the top 25 players in baseball history. His 449 home runs rank him among MLB's all-time top 40 hitters in that category. With 2,314 hits, he's ahead of Hall of Famers Kirby Puckett, Ron Santo, Mike Schmidt and Willie Stargell. 

    During his career, Bagwell also won the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards. He was a four-time All-Star with three Silver Slugger awards and a Gold Glove on his mantle.

    Bagwell did finish with the third-highest voting percentage among those on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot at 59.6 percent. So his chances are getting better. 

    Will he break through in 2014? There's still a bit of a jump for him to make and he'll have to leapfrog the next wave of eligible players. He shouldn't have to wait any longer, but it looks like that will eventually pay off for him. 

Rafael Palmeiro

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    Rafael Palmeiro is probably never getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame. At the very least, he won't be voted in by the BBWAA and will have to wait for the Veterans' Committee to consider his case.

    Palmeiro was named on only 8.8 percent of the ballots for the 2013 Hall of Fame class. That's down from the 12.6 percent he received for 2012—and that already presented him with a major uphill climb.

    Unlike those who are suspected of steroid use, Palmeiro actually did test positive in 2005. Making matters worse, that positive test came five months after he testified before Congress, using a scolding tone and pointing finger to say that he never took steroids. "Period."

    Obviously, that creates an extremely difficult perception to overcome.

    But Palmeiro's numbers are worthy of Cooperstown—and certainly more than nine percent of the vote.

    He has 3,020 hits for his career, ranking 25th on MLB's all-time list. Everyone ahead of Palmeiro on the career hits list is in the Hall of Fame except for Craig Biggio, Derek Jeter (who will be first-ballot Hall of Famer) and Pete Rose (who is banned from baseball).   

    As ESPN's Tim Kurkjian points out, only eight players in MLB history have 3,000 hits and 1,800 RBI. Palmeiro is also the only player to hit at least 38 home runs and compile 100 RBI in nine consecutive seasons. (If you're curious, Palmeiro did this from 1995 to 2003.)

    Palmeiro's 569 home runs constitute the 12th-highest total in baseball history. He also has 1,835 RBI, good for 16th in baseball history. Those sorts of numbers printed an automatic ticket into the Hall of Fame in past years. 

    However, this is obviously a different era now and BBWAA voters have made it extremely clear with their 2013 vote that steroid users are not going to be welcomed into Cooperstown anytime soon.

Alan Trammell

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    I'll admit that this one is a little bit personal for me. I grew up rooting for the Detroit Tigers and Alan Trammell was one of my favorite players. 

    To this day, I believe Trammell was robbed of the 1987 AL MVP that was awarded to the Toronto Blue Jays' George Bell. The Tigers did win the AL East over the Blue Jays that season, however, so maybe Trammell got the last laugh.

    Or did he? Not winning the MVP award may have cost him a shot at the Hall of Fame.

    Trammell got 33.6 percent of the vote on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot. With only two more years of eligibility left, that's probably too large a gap for him to overcome. His fate will be left to the Veterans' Committee, but it never should have gotten to this point.

    What truly bothers me about Trammell being snubbed is that his numbers are very similar to another shortstop, Barry Larkin. Larkin was inducted into Cooperstown in 2012. Trammell actually finished with more hits, RBI and runs scored during his career, though he did play 113 more games than Larkin.

    Trammell hit .285 with a .767 OPS in his 20 major league seasons. He compiled 2.365 hits and 1,005 RBI. He also earned six All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves and three Silver Slugger awards while being largely overshadowed by Cal Ripken, Jr. as a shortstop. 

    I realize Trammell won't be voted into the Hall of Fame and that breaks my heart as a Tigers fan. But if I'm filling out a Hall of Fame ballot, his name will be written on it.

     

    Follow @iancass on Twitter

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